Ever find yourself chatting away with your close friend, telling her how great you’re doing on a work project? And she says, “Wow, you’re a genius! That firm is so lucky to have you!”
Then the next day, your boss pokes her head into your office and asks how you’re doing on that very same project? Does it come out as smooth & confident?
Chances are not so much.
Afterward, you think to yourself, “Why do I get nervous when I talk to my boss? Why can’t I be smooth as silk, like I am with my friend? Does my boss feel like she’s lucky to have me?”
First dates and small talk.
dun duun. dun duun. dun dun. dundundundun.
The great news is that it’s not your fault. You are absolutely not to blame. Why we get nervous when we talk has to do with education & evolution.
The other great news is that you’re not alone. Anyone who has never felt nervous when they speak is probably a psychopath. Feel free to leave your hate in the comments.
Below I’ll tell you why people get nervous when they talk and further below I’ll tell you how to make it stop. 🙂
Why Do I Get Nervous When I Talk? It’s Education
You went to school, and you focused on academia. You learned science, math, history, geography, maybe even music, but no communication skills! Show & tell began and ended in kindergarten.
Did you learn how to introduce yourself in 3rd grade? Was it focused on? Did someone teach you how to make small talk? Did anyone prepare you for speaking in groups? No! You’re just expected to do it. Which only causes us to feel worse about ourselves and perpetuates our nervousness when we talk!
Our society has taught us to accept and be ashamed of our poor communication skills. So much so that we’d rather avoid addressing them than try to improve them. But the people who are secretly improving their communication skills are getting ahead. They are confident and persuasive. Better to be one of them.
Nerves when speaking is not a mystery.
The one thing expected of us is public speaking. Once every couple of years, we are supposed to give an oral report in front of the class. How harrowing is that situation? How many of you dreaded that?! I know I did! We are literally taught in school to be petrified of public speaking! We are trained to be nervous when we talk!
I remember an oral report I did in 4th grade where after months of practicing, I get up there and completely draw a blank! I also remember a very embarrassing incident in Public Speaking class in undergrad that I’ll tell you if you ask.
So guess what? Before I did the exercises below myself, I would be nervous when I spoke also.
Watch this video of Ita Olsen: Why am I Not Automatically an Incredible Speaker
Why do I Get Nervous When I Talk? It’s Evolution
What happens to your body when you’re nervous? Do your knees & hands shake? Are you actually breathing? Do you sweat? How about walking away from the speech, not remembering what you said, but then everyone said you did a great job, so it must be OK?
Shaking hands & knees, heart beating rapidly, not breathing, and drawing a blank are all normal reactions to stress.
For 2+ million years, we’ve been going into fight or flight, causing us to survive. When we face a group of strangers, our primitive brain shuts down our modern prefrontal cortex and gives us 2 choices. Of which we take one and do it fast.
Today our bodies do the same thing. Only now we can’t do one of those two options that are provided for us by our primitive brains. We must stay precisely where we are, and we can’t fight. That’s when our bodies react in fear.
Our society would never shame you for not knowing how to play the guitar. Even if you took lessons! You’d never be ashamed for not being a great tennis player and making it to Wimbledon.
But you feel so much shame about the sound of your voice that you refuse to listen to yourself on the recorder! You don’t want to even watch that video of yourself presenting in front of an audience!
The way to improve any skill is to measure it and improve specific aspects of it. That’s what I want you to do with the techniques below.
Don’t feel shame that you aren’t great at something for which you never learned the techniques. Learn them and practice them until you’re super successful. You’ll have better relationships, nail your job interviews and you’ll be sought-after. Just ask any of my clients!
You can stop getting nervous when you talk.
It gets worse, folks, I’m sorry to report. Now, you have all of these negative speaking experiences resulting from you not knowing how to communicate, even though you were supposed to be born with fantastic communication skills. Now you can add the additional fear of knowing how bad it’s going to turn out. This further compounds your nervousness!
When you’re talking to someone you know, your brain isn’t on high alert by the fact that you’re speaking with him. Your brain also knows that he’s going to be supportive of you. This can lead you to speak more easily and freely.
However, when you’re talking to someone you don’t know so well or who has greater authority than you (like a boss), your brain becomes highly attuned to what you’re going to say.
When your boss asks how work is going, your brain starts generating possible responses. It compares these responses with other things it knows about the topic, such as the feedback you’ve received about this project so far. Also, your inner critic comes out and tell you that he’s not going to like what you have to say.
No One Was Born an Amazing Communicator
No one. Not nobody. Everyone you know who’s an incredible communicator has worked on it. Anyone who you know who’s an impressive public speaker has worked on their presentation skills. They most likely still have a coach helping them. But they may not be the best at interpersonal communication. They may get more nervous when speaking to someone whom they’ve just met.
Some people are great at making small talk or introductions. They’ve worked on & practiced those skills. On the other hand, most folks don’t like introducing themselves because they never know what to say!
People who are great communicators have made it a priority to develop their communication skills.
To top it off, there’s nothing else in the world we were born knowing how to do impeccably. Not one thing! We take golf lessons, tennis lessons, music lessons. The list goes on. There is no reason we should still ask ourselves, Why do I get nervous when I talk? We must start by asking ourselves how to change our nervousness into power.
You know how your teachers taught you to be petrified of speaking by not teaching you how to do it but expecting it from you anyway? Here’s the excellent news: you can stop being nervous when you talk. Here’s how:
How to Be Calm When You Talk
Here are the steps to stop being nervous when you talk:
Like any time you want to make a change, you need first to become aware of the specific problems. In the case of nervousness, it’s the tension in your body. We, humans, carry around tension that we don’t even know about until we become injured.
When I started my business 22 years ago, I was working super long days. On Fridays, I would come home unable to move my head to the left. My shoulder muscle was so tight. Why did I not know I had tension on Wednesday or Thursday?!
Try this: drop your chin down to your chest, let it hang there, and roll your shoulders back in circles. Do you hear clicks and feel the tension in your shoulders?
2. Find Your Relaxed Place
Bring your shoulders up to your ears and tighten all the surrounding muscles. Hold it for 20 seconds and let go. Do your shoulders feel more relaxed? Do that with the muscles of your face and your mouth, too.
This will help you be more relaxed and help you become aware of the tension that you didn’t know existed.
3. Focus on 1 Nerve-Wracking Situation at a Time
Take note of the communicative situations you’re most concerned about & focus on only 1 at a time. Start with the easiest ones first. Do you need to speak in meetings, but your message gets jumbled? Are you going on job interviews? First dates? Stack your situations in order from easy to challenging & start with the easy ones first. 🙂
4. Open Up Your Body
When you are communicating with people, make sure your body is open. Don’t cross your arms & legs. You can even open your arms when you’re greeting people or speaking. It gives you control over yourself, your speech & other people.
Why Do I Get Nervous When I Talk?
Try this for a week or two & let me know how you feel. Or just come to me & I’ll have you relaxed when you speak in a few short sessions. You’ll never again get nervous when you talk.
Our School System
I’d love for you to go crazy making changes in our school system. If you have kids in school, make demands that the teacher helps the children design their presentations and practice them in a systematic, comfortable way. Not just assign an oral report! You are supposed to teach kids! That’s actually your job! So help them stand up and talk. Go little by little.
Teachers! Have your students practice introducing themselves to each other. Make it part of the curriculum. Practice making small talk. Also, learn some relaxation exercises and do them daily with the kids. Do the ones I mention above.
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When your kids are preparing their speeches, have them practice a couple of lines standing at their desks with their arms up or while doing the floss dance. 🙂
Are You Nervous When You Talk?
In what situations? I really want to hear your stories. Do you have any stories where you were nervous to talk? Maybe on a first date or talking to your team? How do you feel about your speaking training in our educational system? Is your employer making your training & development a priority?
Please comment below. And be sure to share these articles because everybody & their mother can benefit from having improved communication skills. 😀